July 05, 2006

Brian Williams Leaves CBC Sports

This story is a few weeks old, and L-girl already brought it up in the comments back here, but I thought I'd better mention it. Brian Willams* has left CBC Sports. Williams is now working for Rogers/CTV, who have the rights to the Canadian Olympic broadcasts for 2010 and 2012.

(*Note to American readers: I don't mean this guy.)

So, short-term good news: we won't have Brian Williams to kick around in 2008 (which is still a CBC property). OK, that's not really fair. I know that lots of people really like Brian Williams, and his absence will be seen as a loss for CBC Sports. He's just not my cup of tea.

Just like when Chris Cuthbert left, there's gossip going around that CBC Sports boss Nancy Lee didn't handle the situation with the utmost of delicacy. In this case I'm not sure many bosses would have done differently — Williams had, after all, already accepted a job with CTV when he was fired.

As long as we're talking about CBC Sports, I'll mention the Final Report on the Canadian News Media, authored by the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communication. The Standing Committee has recommended, among other things, that CBC should get out of the business of broadcasting professional sports and the Olympics:

This Committee believes that the CBC should greatly reduce its broadcasting of professional sports (e.g., hockey games) and the Olympics since these are activities that will be covered by other broadcasters in both official languages. In addition, broadcasts of professional sports are readily available everywhere in Canada via cable and satellite.

Sport is, of course, part of Canadian culture. Professional sports are increasingly carried by specialty channels and this trend will continue. This tendency, evident in the United States, is also occurring in Canada. It has already had an impact on the CBC French language service, which has lost its rights to NHL hockey to a specialty channel (RDS). Similarly, the CBC lost its bid for the 2010 and 2012 Olympics. In the near future, the CBC may well lose the English-language rights for the NHL to a private sector service. This reality needs to be recognized and dealt with in a way that does not interfere with the mandate of Canada’s national public broadcaster.

I should point out that the committee has also recommended that the government provide "realistic and stable funding" on a "long-term basis," with the goal of removing advertising from CBC Television. I suppose that in the fantasy land where this funding recommendation comes true, getting out of the revenue-generating sports business might be good for Canadian sport as a whole. It would probably mean more exposure for lower-profile sports, and support for projects that only a public broadcaster can do. That exposure — subsidized by the Canadian taxpayer — would indirectly lead to more private-sector revenue for amateur sport.

I found the link to the report via The Tea Makers, a good blog written by an anonymous CBC employee. Ouimet supports the concept of cutting sports, but argues that the private broadcasters should be the ones paying to keep the CBC out of the competition.

As a big fan of the Olympics, I'd be sorry to see the CBC stop bidding. In my experience, they do a better job of covering the Games than any private broadcaster I have seen. But that doesn't mean, necessarily, that CTV or some other private entity couldn't do a good job. They just haven't shown it so far, and I'm not sure why that is. Maybe part of the answer is that CBC Sports just has more expertise, developed through years of experience. If CBC Sports really got out of the business, then a lot of talented people — on-screen and off — would migrate to the private broadcasters eventually.

It's kind of amusing, though, to read suggestions that CBC should get out of the hockey business. Even if they didn't have the NHL or the winter Olympics, hockey is just too much part of Canadian culture for the CBC to ignore. We still might end up with a program lineup entirely and completely dedicated to shows about hockey.

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